A county-wide campaign will work to end cyberbullying by raising awareness for common detrimental effects through the interactive lens of social media.
The Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center and County Executive Mike Hein joined together to form the “Words Matter” campaign, which is designed to educate youth about the local law that prohibited cyberbullying of minors in April 2017.
Cyberbullying is the act of intentionally harming individuals through intimidating or threatening electronic transmissions, which are often submitted anonymously and may spread vastly. The idea for this campaign has been in the works since the beginning of this year and is set to target cyberbullying right where it occurs: through technology.
“We chose social media, because that’s where cyberbullying is happening most frequently. We’re not going to put up posters when we know cyberbullying is happening on people’s phones,” said Jake Salt, director of programs & services at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center. “In the past if a kid got bullied in school when they went home, at least, it was safe. But now, when you have smartphones, they don’t have a safe haven when they get back to their bedrooms.”
A steering committee was selected in order to have input from mental health, school and youth professionals, who will also work to form the messages behind this campaign. Those who have spearheaded this idea hope to spread messages about the legal consequences and mental health effects this carries, by utilizing geofilters and local adolescent influences on Snapchat, to encourage an end to all incidents of cyberbullying.
“While our work is always thinking about and working with communities that are LGBTQ identified, we recognize that cyberbullying runs rampant against all types of marginalized youth…[who] don’t fit these conventional definitions of beauty or these harsh standards,” Salt said. “We want to help bring down the instances among our LGBTQ community, as well as just everyone around, no matter how they identify.”
This campaign hopes to reduce the number of incidents in Ulster County, as well as to educate perpetrators through restorative justice methods, which address incidents of cyberbullying without resorting to the court and juvenile justice systems. With this alternative, the perpetrators are able to hear firsthand from the victims, as well as learn how to correct their behavior without being disciplined traditionally.
Since the law prohibiting cyberbullying was enacted, there have been four severe incidents of restorative justice, which have all been resolved without taking criminal action, according to Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell. However, any person over the age of 16, who violates this law again, may be found guilty of a class A misdemeanor. A $4 million restorative justice facility is also currently built in Kingston, according to Crannell.
Ulster County also created “SPEAK” (Suicide Prevention Education & Awareness Kit), a free smartphone prevention suicide app, which educates users about warning signs and what they can do to prevent suicide.
Other laws revolving around bullying have also been implemented in the past, including the 2010 NYS Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which seeks to provide a school environment free of harassment and discrimination, and Ulster County’s “No Name-Calling Week,” which is held the week of Jan. 15 to celebrate kindness, while working against bullying in schools.
“It winds up being a relatively permanent fixture on social media sites and certainly can be very difficult to erase, so the individual then has to deal often with the consequences maybe even years later,” said Dr. Carol Smith, commissioner of the Ulster County department of health and mental health. “If we can educate folks, children and adolescents, we can get the message out there about what it is this represents and what they’re doing to another person can be traumatizing.”
“Hopefully we can create a situation where someone thinks twice before they do this, and then hopefully opts not to do it at all,” she said.
Salt hopes to be able to take this campaign to the “next level,” including producing videos on Instagram and advertising, sometime within the next six months to one year. Starting in 2019, members of this campaign will travel to schools to educate both children and their parents about the local law, the severity of cyberbullying and how to intervene and help victims.
For more information, or to learn how you can become involved in this campaign, email Salt at email@example.com.